How could you not be excited about the 2011 Pikes Peak Hill Climb? Every time you turn around there’s new history being made and talked about and the race is still more than two months away. Just in the unlimited class we have the return of Monster, even after the unspeakable natural tragedy still unfolding in his home country of Japan. The two wheel drive underdog, Paul Dallenbach, armed this year with 500 more horsepower than he’s ever brought before. That’s right, 500 MORE. If you think he won’t be a threat to capture the overall record then you’re just kidding yourself. We have fan-favorite Rhys Millen pushing the envelope of design and technology with his Daytona Prototype inspired RMR PM580. Dubbed “The Batmobile” at last year’s race, this car gives us all a clear look at the future of Pikes Peak. Rhys is working diligently to restore his family name to the top spot in the Pikes Peak record book. And making the giant leap from the Pikes Peak Open Division is Dave Carapetyan. Dave is a bright young driver from Austin, Texas who already has a respectable pedigree on the Hill. Dave has been to the Hill Climb six times, and has made the podium on every occasion and scored three class wins. And he has accomplished all of this before his 23rd birthday. If all that weren’t enough, there are rumors that WRC legend Petter Solberg will be coming to tackle the Hill this year, as well. Each one of these stories, in its own right, is pretty darn interesting. Having ALL of them at one event is downright remarkable. Are we lucky or what? Don’t answer that…it’s a rhetorical.
Like I said, that’s just the unlimited class. In addition to that we have more competitors than ever in the Time Attack class, with sixteen or more. And of course, the usual suspects will be coming back to contest the open wheel, Pikes Peak Open and Super Stock divisions. Oh, and let’s not forget the 100+ Bikes, Quads, and Sidecars making their way to the race this year. Quite possibly the craziest of the crazy, these two wheeled warriors charge off the line, five at a time, and elbow and kick their way up to the summit. Maybe just a hair crazier than that, the quad guys line up three wide at the start. Imagine this; these purpose-built hundred-mile-per-hour machines are 50” wide. This means 150” of quads are fighting for a maximum of 288” of pavement (two 12’ wide lanes) at any given time. And that’s if two of them are fighting for a bad line! Ever seen what happens when two sprint cars come together? The results are similarly destructive when two quads come together. And they don’t have the benefit of a cage to protect them. If you want to know how bad this situation can be, just ask Pikes Peak Pro Quad veterans John Stallworth and Lonnie Henderson who had the misfortune of coming together at nearly 14,000’, just below cog cut. Traveling at an estimated 90mph, John ended up cart wheeling up the straightaway, and Lonnie went over the edge. The racing is always that close, and always that exciting.
With all of this excitement and all of the history that will inevitably be made this year, I still hear the groans from people who lament the fact that the road is being paved. Everyone has their opinions about whether or not this is a good thing and they argue whether or not the legitimacy of the race will stand up when what’s left of the crushed granite road bed is finally gone. There are even arguments that the pavement is making the race easier and that the new records being set should come with some kind of “distinctive mark” similar to the injustice done to Roger Maris when he broke Babe Ruth’s record. The simple fact is that the race is changing. Ultimately we as racers and fans can’t change what the race is or what the road surface will be. We can only choose to reject or embrace the changes and personally, because I absolutely love racing here, I’ve made the choice to embrace it and roll with the changes. When you think about it, how bad could the changes really be? We get a new challenge with the surface itself…we’ve gone from 40-50’ wide dirt, where we can cut corners and straighten out the curves, to two twelve foot lanes with more distinct turns and hay bales on the inside of corners we used to cut. The setup on our cars and bikes is different, and these “between” years, where we have dirt and tarmac have been especially challenging, both on suspension setups and tire choice. As racers we face new challenges away from the Peak all the time; different tracks, weather conditions, etc., so why should this be any different? Let’s at least be honest with ourselves, if it were easy, we would probably find something else to do. So…different: yes. Better or worse: that’s probably an argument that will go on for quite some time.
For me personally, the Good Ol’ Days are right now. We’ll get to see great new cars, world class drivers and, same as always, a continually changing and unpredictable race environment. Sounds pretty darn good to me. This year our pink hot-rod will come to the Hill with more horsepower, better handling, and a real shot at taking down the GT3 Giant driven by seven-time Pikes Peak class champion Jeff Zwart. With our ultimate goal being to prove that a no-budget chubby guy can still build a car in his garage and compete with some of the best drivers and cars around. It could happen.
And just look at this incredible place we get to race. Massive and Majestic, the pink granite of Pikes Peak is our constant. It’s the rock we beat ourselves against to prove we have what it takes to compete in the most demanding environment imaginable. 156 distinct and different turns along a 12.42 mile course that gains over 5000’ in elevation. Most of the race happens above 10,000’ where the lack of oxygen, not surprisingly, affects the way your brain works. And guess what…some of the turns look very similar to each other. “Is this the turn that opens up and I can give it the gas, or closes down and I have to brake…?” Hmm…Wrong guess here could be painful. We arrive on the mountain during race week in the pre-dawn hours and make our last minute preparations before getting limited practice time. We watch the sunrise each day and look out across the wide open plain and realize that if Heaven exists, surely, this must be what it looks like. Then, on race day, we get our one chance to get it right. A single mistake can cost you the win…or worse. It truly is an amazing experience just to be on this mountain, much less be allowed to drive and ride at ridiculously fast speeds along the perilously narrow ledges that serve as our speedway to the summit. I’ve been lucky enough to make the summit on Race day for the past seven years and I think that might be the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever had.
It took me 34 years and help from a lot of friends to get here, and regardless of change or politics I plan on coming back every year I’m physically able. I have a chance to put my name is the same record book occupied by people with names like Dallenbach, Vatanen, Tajima, Millen, Tracy and Stallworth. These people are my racing heroes. And cooler than that, they’re my friends.
For a regular Joe like me, this just might be as good as it gets.
I've been around some form of racing since I was a kid. First hanging around Ascot in Southern California. Then, after moving to Texas as a teen, I got hooked on drag racing and did that for almost fifteen years. In between I have raced Dirt bikes and Quads.
2011 Marked my 8th and final year racing up Pikes Peak: Five in the Pro Quad division and three in Time Attack. Future racing plans are in the works, but until then I'm at the track shooting for My Life at Speed as much as I possibly can.
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